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Theresa Tan
Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014

Singapore

Archbishop forgives man who owed $260k

The Straits Times | Theresa Tan | Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014

The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Ophir Road and its annexe (surrounded by scaffolding). Mr Steven Seow was director of private school Elite International College, which rented two levels of the annexe.

A private school operator who owed a Catholic church more than $260,000 in rent was spared court action when Archbishop William Goh agreed to waive the entire debt.

Mr Steven Seow was relieved to find himself forgiven by the head of the Catholic Church here after falling back on rental payments to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Ophir Road.

The parish priest, Father Augustine Joseph, initiated legal action against him in July.

Mr Seow was the director of Elite International College, a private school that rented two levels of the church's annexe. He owed the church $263,000 after failing to pay his monthly rent of $28,000 for nine months, as well as other bills.

A spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese told The Sunday Times the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes is "undoubtedly the poorest Catholic parish in Singapore", as 90 per cent of its congregation of about 4,000 are migrant workers, many from India.

The church - built in 1888 and gazetted as a national monument - depends primarily on collections at its Sunday services to fund expenses including those for maintenance, administration and pastoral and outreach activities.

Rental income from its annexe was crucial for the church, which provides free meals to migrant workers on Sundays as well as free English and music courses, the spokesman said.

She stressed that the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes applied to the courts for a writ of distress primarily to enable it to secure the premises so that a new tenant could move in.

A writ of distress is a court order used to recover unpaid rent. With the help of a court official called the sheriff, landlords can seize and auction off an errant tenant's moveable property such as furniture and computers, to recover some of the unpaid rent.

The spokesman said: "Had the sheriff's sale proceeded, the proceeds would not have amounted to much, but it was nevertheless money that was sorely needed by the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes."

The Sunday Times understands that a public auction was set for Sept 17, but the seizure of assets and auction did not take place.

The spokesman said: "On appeal by the tenant, the Archbishop had - in the spirit of gospel values - decided to forgive the entire debt and to withdraw the writ of distress, effectively returning ownership of the assets to the tenant."

Mr Seow told The Sunday Times: "I appreciate and thank the church for its magnanimity, compassion and mercy in resolving this issue."

His school, which was registered in February 2012, closed in July this year. He did not say why it shut down, and did not answer questions relating to it.

The Council for Private Education, which regulates private school operators, said the college offered courses to prepare foreign students for an admissions exercise conducted by the Education Ministry before they can enrol in a government school. It also offered business, accounting and paralegal courses, among others.

The council spokesman said: "Based on records provided by the Elite International College, it did not have any students enrolled prior to its decision to voluntarily deregister."


This article was first published on Sep 28, 2014.
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